FEATURED STORY AUGUST 2020 -ADAM SCHWAM
Everything you need to know from the tech antitrust hearing.Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon versus Congress
The CEOs of Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon testified in Congress
The CEOs of Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon testified in Congress, trying to convince the House Judiciary Committee that their business practices don’t amount to anti-competitive monopolies. It’s one of the biggest tech oversight moments in recent years, part of a long-running antitrust investigation that has mustered hundreds of hours of interviews and over a million documents from the companies in question. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Google / Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai all laid out their defense strategies in published testimony. They made the case that their companies are providing beneficial products in a landscape filled with competition and that their massive scale simply makes their services better. Many members of Congress questioned those claims.
Chair David Cicilline (D-RI) opened the hearing by warning about the influence wielded by America’s biggest tech companies. “Because these companies are so central to our modern life, their business practices and decisions have an outsized effect on our economy and our democracy. Any single action by any one of these companies can affect hundreds of millions of us in profound and lasting ways,” said Cicilline.
Cicilline laid out common patterns across the four companies
Each is a bottleneck for a “key channel of distribution,” like an ad market or app store. Each uses data and surveillance of other companies to protect its power by “buying, copying, or by cutting off” potential competition. And the platforms all “abuse their control over current technologies to extend their power” by preferencing their own products or creating predatory pricing schemes.
“Their ability to dictate terms, call the shots, upend entire sectors, and inspire fear represent the powers of a private government,” he concluded. “Our founders would not bow before a king. Nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy.” Ranking member James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) followed with a more conciliatory statement. “Being big is not inherently bad, quite the opposite.
In America you should be rewarded for success,” he said. “We’re here to better understand your role your companies have in the digital marketplace and importantly the effect they have on consumers and the public at large.”
The hearing was peppered with signs of the coronavirus pandemic. After a one-hour delay to allow time for cleaning, the remote witnesses were asked to swear that they weren’t getting answers by staff, and Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-OH) was chided for leaving his mask off while not speaking. Bezos, Pichai, Cook, and Zuckerberg all delivered 5-minute opening comments that were published the night before, offering defenses of their platforms alongside broader emotional appeals.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai mentioned their humble upbringings — Bezos’ mother was in high school in the 1960s when he was born, and Pichai described computer access changing his life while he was growing up in India. Apple CEO Tim Cook described Apple as a “uniquely American company,” while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised that his company would stand for “American values” in a competitive global market.
Cicilline began his questioning by asking Pichai about Google’s search practices, including its scraping of content like restaurant reviews. “Why does Google steal content from honest businesses?” he asked. When Pichai offered a nonspecific denial, he asked if there was a conflict of interest between Google’s goal of sending people to relevant websites and its incentive to sell ads and and promote its own services — and cited a memo where Google complained some vertical search sites were getting “too much traffic.” He also asked if Google used its web traffic surveillance capabilities to identify and crush competition. “Congressman, just like other businesses we try to understand trends from, you know, data, which we can see, and we use it to improve our products for users,” Pichai responded.
Sensenbrenner directed his questions to Zuckerberg, asking if Facebook filtered out political viewpoints and why it had temporarily suspended Donald J. Trump, Jr. for posting a video making false claims about face masks and the drug hydroxychloroquine. Zuckerberg pointed out that this incident actually happened on Twitter but said that posts making false medical claims related to coronavirus would be removed because they “could cause imminent risk of harm.”
House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) introduced emails collected for the investigation that seemingly showed Facebook discussing an acquisition of Instagram to prevent it from becoming a competitive threat
Zuckerberg still defended the acquisition, saying it was “far from obvious” that Instagram would have succeeded without Facebook’s help. “It was not a guarantee that Instagram was going to succeed. The acquisition has done wildly well not just because of the founders’ talent, but because we invested heavily in building up the infrastructure and promoting it and working on security and working on a lot of things around this.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) raised the question of Russian election interference on Facebook and asked about its role in promoting racism and anti-Semitism, as well as its response to the #StopHateForProfit campaign supported by organizations like Color of Change — which submitted a letter to Congress warning about disinformation that “jeopardizes the physical, social, and political health of our society at large — and Black communities specifically.” “We’re very focused on fighting against election interference and we’re also very focused on fighting against hate speech,” said Zuckerberg, saying Facebook had built “really sophisticated” AI systems to remove hate speech.
Quite possibly Zuckerberg’s way of hiding the fact his AI has quite possibly gone haywire trying to police a network with billions of users and only 35,000 employees and AI to edit trillions of posts.
Most in the know believe that no tech company could manage that amount of data or brut force social interactions at that level accurately. Also more than likely why so many are getting rid of their facebook accounts or finding them disabled with no reasonable explanation other than faulty AI, and or becoming the political target of a liberal moderator. No matter what, it seems that congress is finally getting on the ball. They are taking a real look at divesting these mega giant tech companies who use their dominance to control the US economy and limit the success of entrepreneurs throughout their markets. Will be a very interesting election knowing that these mega companies have huge bank accounts and can write many “donation checks”.